Agonizing Ads….

Just last week, I had the pleasure of flipping through an issue of the fashion magazine Marie Claire. According to their website, this publication is: “Your source for information on fashion, style, beauty, women’s issues, careers, health, and so much more. It is the fashion magazine with character, substance and depth, for women with a point of view, an opinion and a sense of humor…If it matters to women, it’s in Marie Claire.”

Hmm, sounds promising so far.

Inside I found these two ads:

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What matters to women? Apparently Slimfast diets and breast implants. I particularly love the Slimfast image, with its bait and switch. Women want to lose weight to be more confident, it’s improving their self-image, right….? Oh wait, what they actually meant was women want to look better naked.

Two things:

1. Don’t tell me to diet.

2. I already look good naked.

Why do these ads make me happy? It’s not because I’m looking to drop pounds or get bodywork done.

It’s not even because they expose Marie Claire’s mission statement as blatant hypocrisy.

These ads make me smile because of what happened as I was looking at them. (Glaring in anger, really.) Because at that moment, two other women in the room with me became interested in what was causing my face to twist up. I quickly showed them the offending pages. And what happened next was brilliant. We started a dialogue.

In a very simple way, we deconstructed the hell out of those images. We talked through it. We voiced our different opinions. These stupid, frustrating pictures of faceless women turned into tools whereby we could talk about what it means to be a woman now. And that’s a seed of hope for this society. Women want to talk about what it means to be women. They just need the opportunity. And what is more fitting and more ironic than using  mass media as a diagram of exactly how we don’t want to be seen?

I may even write a little note to Marie Claire, to thank them for making their idea of womanhood so clear to me. It’s useful to know thine enemy.

-Nicole

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Punching People Is A Bad Idea — A Personal Tale About Desensitization of Violence

As was briefly mentioned in the most recent Fatal Friday post, I punched someone. I am not proud of it. In fact, I am still a little shocked that I had the capability to become so angered by a stranger’s stupid comment  that I used my agency for physical violation. Although Nicole summed up the situation fairly well, there’s more to it than she or anyone else knows. While the moment of violence lasted less then a minute and no blood was spilled nor response made from the punched party, I now realize that although I consume mass amounts of media, I am still not desensitized…as proved by my shock…and I think that is a very important thing to acknowledge.
First things first: on Friday, November 2nd, I went to film class at 10am where I watched the war movie “Brothers” (2009, Jim Sheridan). The film has a brutal PTSD subplot which included the audience witnessing the origin of the main character’s mental disease: a violent murder inflicted on one American solider from another with a rusty pipe.
I winced in my chair and I’m sure other students around me did as well. Later in the movie, this same character cannot function in everyday life as he used to after he returns home, largely due to the emotional stress he’s holding in. Instead, it bubbles up and explodes in the form of a deranged attack on his wife’s new kitchen, a gift from his brother. He smashes it to bits, again with a metal pipe. With his family in terror, the police arrive at his home and he pulls a gun threatening to kill himself. Personally I found this overwhelm hard to digest. (A few days later when we deconstructed the film in class, it was not nearly as striking as it had been when I was emotionally invested.) Nonetheless, when the movie ended on Friday and the credits began to roll, my 150+ classmates immediately got up and exited. I was left sitting alone in a semi-dark lecture hall recounting the story, my feelings about the characters and the apparent lack of sensitive response my peers seemed to show.
About 12 hours later is when I punched someone for screaming, “…and you should’ve sucked his dick too…” in my general direction. Whether or not the comment was for me, I assumed it was and became enraged, throwing my moral and logical reasoning out the window. Almost instinctively my reaction happened, as if I could not find another way in that split second to get rid of the “thing” that bothered me. It’s as if I thought that by punching the guy who said it, the comment would just disappear as if it had never been uttered. I’d like to think I was being defensive, but I was being reactive.
For back-story  I have never been in a fist fight nor have ever found the desire to prove myself in such a way. As an only child, I received a lot of emotional attention and mental stimulation so the idea of physical confrontation has never had much appeal to me. I was always taught to practice civil discussion if an issue came up. I try to be fair and open and listen to all sides, so, in reflection of my actions, I am appalled at myself.
But onward with the night for the tale is not over yet! After a mentally sobering walk to my friend’s place for a get together, Nicole and I watched “21 Jump Street” (2012, Chris Miller, Phil Lord), the stupid comedy about two young cops trying to make a name for themselves by working undercover in a high school to bust a drug ring.
The movie is filled with on-screen death, explosives, vulgar behavior, weapons, drugs, hyper-masculinity and blood…but the catch is that it’s hysterical. Oh the magic of cinema that it can take reality and spin it and interpret it in so many ways! While watching “21 Jump Street” I laughed, snorted even, at the bathroom humor and obnoxious characters. They meant nothing to me. Their failures were my entertainment and for that matter, were supposed to be. The blatant violence was for my viewing pleasure; such an odd phenomenon in our culture.
I still feel the shock of my hit, but I cannot help to wonder why. Is it because I truly do not have a physically violent nature? I think that’s part of it. Or is it because we women are not meant to be reactive, to respond and defend our own honor? And even if the comment was directed at someone else instead of me, would it be an embarrassment that I defended their honor since I am a woman? Perhaps I was not aware how terrible it feels to hurt someone, to see their face offended and their body trying to hide away from the blow. Did I subliminally think that because of all the violence I see in the media that I would feel more heroic? More bad-ass? Is this what violence has become?
The line becomes clearer now: our world is desensitized. To gore. To sex. To anything and everything that used to be taboo. We have gangster rap and kiddie porn, 3D movie theaters and Playboy, non-stop social media and overwhelming advertising. EVERYWHERE. In theory, exposing the individual to constant consumption could begin the proactive dialogue of why the world is the way it is and how our trends and behaviors are created and effect us, but instead we expose society to media without media literacy education, thus the conversation is never had about its consequences, good or bad. This is a problem because real life and what we see on TV becomes blended together in a tangy concoction of moral disregard and confusing agendas. Media is neither good nor bad, but the weight it carries in our world is outstanding.

I am not yet desensitized. I can still feel and hurt and be blown away by something meant to blow me away. The media can frame anything the way it wants, but deep down I know (and sometimes have to remind myself) that the Himalaya mountains will never be as beautiful on television as they apparently are in real life, that physically intimate interactions are at my and my partner’s discretion and will not be acted out “as seen on TV” in sexy soap operas or music videos and that as long as I can actively work on being media literate, I am closer to a human being than any scripted character or photo-shopped model in an advertisement has ever been.
-Darragh Dandurand Friedman (darraghdandurand@aol.com)

Sad Stats….

Coming to you directly from the Women’s Media Center, which compiled a report analyzing the number of women in important media roles, here are some sad numbers:

-Of the top 250 domestic grossing films, women were 5% of the directors, 14% of the writers, 18% of the executive producers, 25% of the producers, 20% of the editors, and 4% of the cinematographers.

-In the key behind-the-scenes role in entertainment television, women were 18% of the creators, 22% of the executive producers, 37% of the producers, 15% of the writers, 11% of the directors, 20% of the editors, and 4% of the directors of photography.

-The “Heavy Hundred” “most important radio talk show hosts in America,” selected by the editors of Talkers magazine with input from industry leaders, included only 13 solo women hosts and three women who co-host shows with men.

-Women represented 21.7% of guests on Sunday morning news talk shows airing on NBC, CBS, ABC, CNN, and Fox News.

I don’t even know how to process this! There’s something so cruel and hard about quantifying it, seeing that 5% ….and let me assure you the full report is even worse. The data has been put into bar graphs. It’s just great to see the teeny bar representing women nearly crushed under the number of men in the field. But talk talk talk….in this case, the only cure is to make. Ladies, let’s get to work!

A (Not Cool) Trip Back In Time

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Backstory: I love analog technology, and one aspect of this includes records. So I was in a used record store with my best friend when we discovered the record you see above.

Records, actually, there’s two in there. The absolute best part, though, was the included booklet. Of course I read it. I may actually go back and buy the whole thing, just because it merits quoting. For now I’ll spare you an in-depth retelling; just know that the word “merchandise” was used in reference to your (the wife’s) butt, which apparently was the reason your man married you in the first place. Pro tip: honey, you want sex from your husband? Pink mood lighting’ll get him every time. The author, Ann Corio, guarantees it.

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(The Author)

NOT COOL–Sexy Disney Campaign

“The standard Minnie Mouse will not look so good in a Lanvin dress. There was a real moment of silence, because these characters don’t change. I said, ‘If we’re going to make this work, we have to have a 5-foot-11 Minnie,’ and they agreed.” –Dennis Freedman, creative director

So, what he’s saying is that a chubby, furry, cartoon animal doesn’t look good in a dress designed for a human? Who would have thought. 

There are levels of weird in this project that I’m almost afraid to descend to. Essentially, this department store is preparing a campaign that involves taking popular children’s animated animals and trying to make them into runway models. Apparently the best way to do this is to plop cartoon heads on elongated, stick-thin humanoid bodies. As I look at the Daisy Duck image, I wonder: how do those legs support that big bow? Without snapping like toothpicks.

Why was this ever a good idea? Better yet, who the hell is the target consumer here? Adults who watch the Disney Channel? Or the little kids that read Vogue? 

But the aspect that I truly object to more than anything is the sexualization of a children’s character. Freedman doesn’t even attempt to hide it. Minnie doesn’t look skinny enough, so we took some “creative freedoms” with her body image.

If I were a child, I would be deeply confused when I saw a familiar face on these pictures. I would assume that Minnie and Daisy had been kidnapped by aliens with crazy E.T.-long limbs.

That makes more sense than the truth, which is that these relatively innocent Disney females have been turned into sexual objects for the camera and the male/consumer gaze.

And let’s not forget Goofy.

Dear Gods. He was always out of proportion, but this is just awkward. His waist is TINY. And his legs are a wee bit more plausible, but not really considering the size of his head and shoulders. The scarf plus his disdainful expression really seals the deal. That’s what Freedman thinks women like to see? Oh, sir. Where’s the butt? The rippling pectorals? Not even one manly chest hair?

These images, instead of being sexy selling points, are confusing, anatomically impossible hybrids, grotesque enough that even Steven King would shudder to dream them up.

The best part? They’re making a short film, too!

I can’t wait.

Media Review–Story of O

Story of O

By Pauline Réage

Translation by John Paul Hand

1954

Influences: The Marquis de Sade

 

We had no idea that this book would have such an affect on us. In reflection, we are disturbed, intrigued, confused and frustrated. Story of O was suggested to us by a co-worker who said that he knew of a writing that “surpassed” Fifty Shades of Grey. Curious, we each read it and tears of anger flowed from our eyes. Binge eating, hugging and raving rants were all we could do to fill the void of unpleasantry that Story of O ripped in our hearts (and frontal lobes). Before we officially sat down to write this review, we did “research” for several hours which included watching several Rihanna music videos, listening to the lyrics of “E.T.” by Katy Perry and “No Church in the Wild” by Jay-z, Kanye West and Frank Ocean and, finally, reading the testimonies and self-help blog of an actual submissive / BDSM slave. It was a fun time.

And now, because we simply cannot handle this book or take it seriously, for a limited time only, we have chosen to re-write the beginning of Story of O, almost word for word, with our own context, setting and sense of humor. You’re welcome.

One day Nicole and Darragh go to a section of the Internet where they never go — the scary part. After they have taken a stroll through Youtube and have scanned the higher numbered pages of Google search, sitting together in the dank lighting of the Office, they notice, on one link of Wikipedia, on an interface where there are never any good articles, a page which, because of its title, invites them to click.

“What is this?” Darragh says.

She opens the page. It is Summer, but they have been inside all day. They are dressed as they always are: beat-up Converse sneakers, ripped sweaters, black-framed glasses, and no hat. But long hair which gets caught as they huddle close over the keyboard, and in their dirty book-bags they have their dirty books and feminist theory articles.

The page loads slowly, Nicole still not having said a word in response. But she pulls out a notepad from her bag and her eyes scroll down the window. She takes off her glasses, thinking Darragh wants to talk about what they’ve just read. But instead Darragh says:

“I think I threw up a little.” Nicole hands her a napkin in humorous response. Darragh takes it distractedly, puts it on the table and adds:

“There are just too many things wrong with this. I don’t know where to start. Can you please hold me?”

By now the Internet connection, which is less than trustworthy, has decided to freeze the screen, and Nicole has some trouble closing the window; she’s also afraid that Darragh may actually vomit. Finally, though, the window is at least minimized, but they’re not the least bit embarrassed to be reading NSFW articles at their job. Besides, it the same office in which they started this blog anyway.

“Fasten your seatbelt,” Nicole says, “and hold onto your panties, because I think we need to review this on FF.”

That’s easy enough, all they have to do is read one of the most infamous BDSM “erotic” novels ever written in less than two weeks and retain their sanity. And it’s written by a French woman. Nicole looks over at Darragh and says:

“You shouldn’t stay curled up in a ball in the corner. You’ll only start rocking back and forth.”

The floor is littered with burger wrappers, crumpled pages, broken audio cables and pens left empty and lonely. It’s quite a disgusting sensation to wade through it to get to the computer. Then Nicole says:

“Oh God, there’s a movie version and it’s on Netflix.”

The Internet connection is no longer frozen and is streaming a disturbing clip from the 1975 trailer, and Darragh doesn’t dare ask why Nicole just sits there without moving or saying another word, nor can Darragh guess what all this means to her – having Nicole there motionless, silent, so sad and exposed, so thoroughly glued, to a story going God knows where. Darragh doesn’t need to tell Nicole what she thinks or how she feels, since it’s obvious, but she’s afraid to un-bunch her legs and come close to the screen. She sits with out-stretched arms braced on either side of the wall.

“Well that was…..yeah,” Nicole says suddenly. Here they are: on the Internet, beneath fluorescent lights – they are annoying lights – inside of some sort of institution which can be seen nestled between North Philadelphia and Center City, the type of huge collegiate dwelling where one finds students asleep on sofas at any time of the day or night and wandering aimlessly through the halls along Broad Street. The real world is some distance away, and it is always a little unsettling anytime anyone leaves. Outside it is raining.

Yeah, we did that. And now here’s our actual review:

Enter the world of the woman called O, and give up any thought of mercy. This is no coy rip-off, couched in the supernatural realm of fantasy. Here there are no excuses, and absolutely no safe words. This is a testament to the power of conditioning on the human brain. Also, it’s torture porn.

We have many thoughts about O and her story. The plot is minimal, summed up and spoiled by the blurb on the back cover. O is kidnapped, conditioned to be a submissive sex slave, and given to two men. Both tire of her and discard her at the novel’s end. The last sentence? “O, seeing that Sir Stephen was on the verge of leaving her, preferred to die. Sir Stephen gave his consent.” She needs his permission to die. O has nothing to call her own.

Why do we resent this book? Why does it anger us? Dehumanization, for one.  Previous readers have already commented that “O” might as well be an abbreviation for object. Indeed, the novel follows O’s transformation from a human into a living sex toy. The book glorifies the most generic role-playing of master and servant. There’s no individuality in the characters. They are not defined by anything other than their extravagant sexual acts. They are animals that happen to have extreme mating rituals. We can’t speak for anyone else, but watching dogs and cats have sex is not arousing to us. That’s how detached we felt while reading….as if we were watching several stray cats do it. O isn’t a person, she’s a sex-bot.

[Added Paragraph] But then there is the idea that O may very well be the perfect woman. She is thin, beautiful  and submissive. She lives to be loved in whatever form “love” many take. She is simple and un-materialistic and low maintenance. She doesn’t mind if you beat her, brand her or betray her, as long as you don’t leave her. Because then she’ll want to die. O is so perfect, she’s living, breathing clay for any Pygmalion that comes along to sculpt. She is so devoted to her idea of acceptance that she does whatever she can to find it and receive it, including, but not limited to: being raped by several strangers one after the other, being flogged and whipped until she bears permanent scars, getting a leash attached to her genitals and proclaiming slave status to appease her Master. And what really makes O the perfect woman is that one may assume she does not have a menstrual cycle nor can get pregnant. There are no consequences for her Masters to be concerned about. They have nothing they need to apologize for because their actions only seem to ripple to O, who is literally an “o,” an orfice, a sex doll. O cannot possibly be the ideal woman because she seemingly does not live the lived experience of what it is to be a woman, biologically or gender-chosen.

We are struggling in a conflict between accepting O’s submissiveness, because she accepts it and being overwhelmingly frustrated by her awareness of oppression. At the end of the day though, we just are trying to wrap our brains around understanding how anyone could live an authentic BDSM lifestyle. We’d like to think that Story of O is perhaps an ironical take on patriarchy and a hyperbolized tale of gender roles and politics. Maybe that is myopic, but it is the only way we can consume  its passages in good conscience while hoping, praying and at least pretending it is commentary on the ills of society and institutional brutality against women. From this perspective, it’s as if Pauline, the author, is mocking cultural standards by writing a satirical subversion that says, “Of course women want to be abused! They cannot think for themselves! Yes, violence is the answer! Oh, and men are insane, sex-crazed lunatics without an ounce of compassion. Yes, that’s it; women are merely walking, talking (if they’re allowed) holes for self-centered dicks to put their dicks into!”

Analyzing Story of O in this way lets us compare it to the graphic movies of South Korea’s “extreme cinema” genre. Ki-duk Kim, a director who has created several films that fall into this category, is often called a misogynist for his violent and profuse use of rape, prostitution, gang brutality and sickening sub-cultural realities. His defense for such accusations? Well, he says that his movies are actually more like commentary on society, forcing audiences to see what they ignore in their communities everyday. He believes, like other “extreme” artists, that the “slap-in-your-face” method is disturbing enough that it actually does raise awareness about social issues. We would like to think that this is what Pauline had intended for her book to do; the idea that Story of O is not criticizing the BDSM community, but is highlighting the larger problem of gender-typing and manipulation.

This also settles into the “reality” of “desensitization.” Just look to any one of the music videos listed below as examples of the male gaze, of self-sexualization and of the “pornification” of the mainstream:

Dirty Talk” – Wynter Gordon

S&M” – Rihanna

Disturbia” – Rihanna

Alejandro” – Lady Gaga

Dirrty” – Christina Aguilera

Lady Marmalade” – Christina Aguilera, Lil’ Kim, Mya, Pink (there’s a riding crop in this one!)

You can read the novel (if you’re a little crazy or a little curious) here, although we do not take blame for any emotional distress caused.

*Two young feminists were scarred in the reading of this book. No animals were injured. Lots of sweet potato fries were consumed though.

NOT COOL

WHAT?!?!?!?!

#!@%!^@*!^@#!$!@%@#$!

We’re so confused/frustrated/appalled that we don’t even know what word those symbols stand for!!!!

We are not ragging on Christians, chaste lifestyles or those who believe in the sanctity of marriage. We are angry about the GENDER-TYPING!!!!!!!!

This a website by Christian speaker/author/marriage counselor/uber opinionated Sheila Wray Gregoire. In her own words, “her passion in this life is to help strengthen families–to equip women to be the best wives and mothers they can be…”

Gulp. I’m trapped in a vacuum cleaner and I can’t get out! It smells like the 1950’s in here!